Lawson?s Grafton connection


OF THE numerous characters who have called Grafton home, few could be more colourful than the Australian writer EJ Brady, one of the 'founding fathers' of the Australian Labor Party and a loyal mate of Henry Lawson.

Brady was part of the circle of writers now known as 'The Bulletin School', a remarkable stable of writers who dominated the Australian literary scene for several decades from the 1880s.

He was a close mate of Lawson's, but also a friend or acquaintance of many of Australia's greats: Roderic Quinn, Christopher Brennan, AB 'Banjo' Paterson, Victor Daley, Mary Gilmore, Ethel Turner, John Le Gay Brereton, Brunton Stephens ? he even 'discovered' the famous writers Katherine Mansfield and Katharine Susannah Prichard.

And of special interest to the people of Grafton, he was editor of a newspaper that was a competitor of The Examiner, but after a century, let's not hold that against him, shall we?

Edwin James Brady was born at Carcoar, NSW, on August 7, 1869. He was proud of a long family tradition in Northern Ireland and the United States, and once remarked 'my pedigree has always been longer than my purse'.

His father, Edward Brady, fought in the American Civil War and Indian Wars before coming to this country where he worked as a trooper in the Mounted Police Force, on the trail of bushrangers in central and western NSW.

In 1880, Edward and Hannah Brady took the family to Washington for two years, and Edwin, who had been schooled at Oberon, had to adjust to American ways.

In 1882, while living at Haymarket, Sydney, he was a pupil at St Francis' School, with two fellow pupils, Roderic Quinn and Christopher Brennan, who also became two of Australia's most respected litterateurs.

However, it was his later education at St Mary's Cathedral School in Sydney, to which 'Ted' Brady ascribed his love of literature.

Someone with Brady's restless intellect, however, was unlikely to last long down the cisterns of Sydney, and before long he gained his matriculation, but his soul was also restless and he dropped out of Sydney University to take a job as a timekeeper on the Sydney wharves for Dalgety and Co. at 20 shillings a week.

He worked for Dalgety's in different jobs until, during the Great Maritime Strike of 1890, he refused his employer's order to become a 'special constable' opposing the striking trade unionists and protecting the company's property.

As historian Bruce Scates writes: ''Brady traded the complacent security of home and office for the boozy fellowship of boarding house and Bulletin'', and his family was not at all happy about it.

Sydney in the years 1890-95 ? the time of the 1890s Depression ? was not only a literary hotbed, it was alive with radicalism.

Jack Lang, who later became Premier, was helping to print an anarchist journal called 'Hard Cash', and Billy Hughes (later Prime Minister of Australia) was working on it as well.

William Holman, another soonto-be Premier of NSW, was another activist in the wide circle of Castlereagh Street radicals.

Meanwhile, Jack Lang's brother-in-law, young Henry Lawson, was writing fiery poems for bloody revolution.

As had famously happened in Melbourne, troopers fixed bayonets and set up machine gun nests near Parliament House, Sydney, as strikers grew restless and governments grew impatient.

In 1893 came the burning of the Dagworth Station shearing shed and the subsequent billabong-side death (murder or suicide) of one of the arsonists, the shearer Sam 'Frenchy' Hoffmeister, immortalised by Banjo Paterson in 'Waltzing Matilda'.

Meanwhile, about 600 Australians felt that they would never get a fair life working in Australia so they sailed to Paraguay to form a communal settlement called 'New Australia'.

Such was the milieu in Australia at the time Brady began his adult years and career as a writer and activist.

He joined the new Australian Socialist League (becoming its secretary), and became a member of the Labor Electoral League (later the Australian Labor Party).

He edited its first newspaper, The Australian Workman, and organised the country's first clerical workers' union.

He not only came to know the writers mentioned above, but early Labor politicians such as Lang, Hughes, Holman, AG 'The Mudgee Camel' Taylor (MP and first editor of Truth and The Spectator), John Norton, the eccentric King O'Malley, Aust- ralia's first Prime Minster Edmund Barton, and Chris Watson, third Prime Minister of Australia and the first Labor PM, as well as many celebrities such as the theatrical entrepreneur JC Williamson.

Early in 1892, Brady, then only 22, was editing The Australian Workman, the official organ of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council, at 3 pounds a week.

Henry Lawson cheekily entered his small office off George Street, Brickfield Hill to 'thank' him for paying him the 'honour' of stealing his poem 'The Cambaroora Star', which Ted Brady had in fact plagiarized.

They retired to the pub next door and over 'sleevers of colonial (beer)', Lawson and Brady became firm mates from that day.

One day in mid-1892, JF Archibald, the illustrious founder and editor of The Bulletin, was worried about Lawson, who 'Archy' felt was drinking too much and becoming 'the poet of The Rocks' instead of the Poet of Australia.

He arranged with Lawson's best pal Brady to send Lawson, with The Bulletin's five pounds, off to Bourke.

It was Lawson's nine months in the Outback that he mined for 'copy' for his stories and poems until his death in 1922.

In 1895, the day after Brady's divorce from his wife Marion Walsh (married October 30, 1890), he married Labor activist Creo Stanley, though this relationship did not last long either.

In his day, Brady edited various journals: The Australian Workman, The Dead Bird (later called Bird-o'-Freedom and then renamed The Arrow), The Worker and The Native Companion.

But most important to Graftonians, he later edited the Grafton Grip.

In August, 1901, at Grafton, he became part-owner (with Miss Susan Penrose) and editor of The Grip (until July, 1903), clashing with the local council and losing advertisers.

Brady loved the Mallacoota district just south of the Victorian border near Eden, NSW, and began what was known as Mallacoota Community Farm, a cooperative settlement.

It was there that in 1910 and with little success, Brady took Lawson to 'dry out' from his addiction to alcohol, and it is at Mallacoota that EJ Brady lies, in the community cemetery.

Brady died on August 22, 1952.

nPip Wilson is a writer from Sandy Beach. He wishes to thank the excellent Clarence River Historical Society Inc. (especially Mr Frank Mack), and Mr Stephen Tatham, a local historian with a wealth of information that space did not allow in this article. Pip also acknowledges the information in John B Webb's critical biography of EJ Brady.

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